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Nostalgia
 

Nostalgia

ESRB: Everyone 10+
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Category: RPG
 
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Developer: Matrix Software
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment

Nostalgia is the next epic handheld role-playing game from the developers who brought us the critically acclaimed Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV titles to the Nintendo DS. Set in the 19th century, Nostalgia immerses gamers into world filled with treacherous airship battles, elusive treasure hunts, and action-packed dungeon combat. Nostalgia gives players control of Eddy, the son of a legendary English adventurer, and a cast of fellow Londoners, all who set off on an adventure that takes them around the world. You will visit popular cities such as Tokyo, London, New York and Cairo as you embark on a quest in a search of a world yet unknown.

Graphics

If you are familiar with some of the older titles that Matrix has done then you know that they are responsible for pushing the 3D capabilities on the DS hardware. The game looks and runs smooth for a fully-3D Nintendo DS title, but don't expect any graphical leaps over their previous DS games. Nostalgia’s setting is Earth in the 1920's. Each town, and most of the dungeon settings, are based on a real world location, or at least some approximation of it. While this gives the title a unique flair I’d be remiss in not saying that the areas can be a little underwhelming at times. I found most of the games textures are all shades of gray, brown, and green. It gives the game a bit of a washed out and dreary portrait that eventually wears on the eyes. It never gets too colourful or bright which, in my opinion, hurts the game in the long run.

The large cities, such as London and New York, are rendered in small series of square buildings viewed in a top-down perspective. Being entirely 3D the engine inherently limits the graphical capabilities of the title, which in effect ends up seriously down-scaling the scope of the areas. This is made all the more glaring by the games overheard fixed camera. With absolutely no control over the camera in towns or dungeons, it begs the question as to why Matrix decided to stick completely too 3D graphics. The end result is a title that never lives up to its concept artwork, or even the real thing. This is a shame, since the title could have really burst to life graphically on another console. I am sure the Wii could handle the game and more if given the chance. As good of a job the DS does the shortcomings of the hardware does show.

One big positive for the visuals comes while flying around the world. I really liked the vistas when. The game looks during airship battles or when navigating around the in-game world. This really shows off what Matrix can do. The battle scenes reminded me of Skies of Arcadia with its sweeping and epic flowing feel. I was quite impressed that the little DS could do some really nice and stable 3D visuals in this area.

The monster and character designs are decent but they reminded me of some of the baddies from the Castlevania games, so in that sense I found them somewhat unimaginative overall.

Technically speaking, the game has a few graphical anomalies like the odd bout with jaggies and clipping, but nothing that we haven’t seen before. The game manages to run smooth throughout the course of the adventure and remains mostly free of any graphical-based glitches or even slowdown.

Sound

The sound is always a key part of any game, especially an RPG. The music in Nostalgia fits the game, and like any good RPG, the soundtrack lures gamers even further into the world that unfolds in front of you. The music is composed by the anonymously titled "T's Music". The title screen and opening cinematic are my fave as they are well composed. I really liked that each city has a unique flavour and music style to accompany it. It is nice not to hear the same repeating tunes over and over. That being said, as good as it is, the music never seems to reach the lofty heights of most classic RPG titles.

The game is entirely MIDI-based, and although it can sound a bit tinny and compressed at times, it still has good separation and clarity. As with most DS titles you should listen to the game using headphones as it is the only way, in my opinion, to get the full aural effect of the game. Unfortunately the game has no special vocal tracks; in fact the title is completely without any voiceover work whatsoever. This never seems to be a problem, and in fact it you probably will never notice it.

Gameplay

This game kind of took me by surprise. The game is brought to you by the same people d Nostalgia is an entirely original Nintendo DS role-playing game conceived by the brilliant minds at three of Japan’s top studios: Tecmo, RED Entertainment, and Matrix. This epic journey thrusts you into an alternate-reality version of 19th century Earth, where you assume the role of Eddie, a headstrong London youth who sets out in a borrowed airship to search for his missing father. Along the way, you’ll amass a ragtag team of like-minded adventurers, discover myriad treasures, and uncover ancient mysteries at far-flung locations all over the globe.

Nostalgia’s journey to the Nintendo DS has been a lengthy one – the concept and story line were first devised over a decade ago, but the perfect blend of talent required to bring it to fruition didn’t synergize until now. These unique development circumstances have brought about an equally unique game as Nostalgia combines the old-school charm and passion of classic RPG titles with the depth and finesse of a modern role-playing adventure to forge an unforgettable hybrid that reminds veteran players of why they got into Japanese role-playing games in the first place. At the same time, Nostalgia provides a perfect entry point for younger gamers who may feel daunted by overly complex, dark-and-brooding modern RPGs.

I liked Nostalgia right away, as it has a fun and free flowing air to its gameplay, much like retro RPG’s did back in the old days. The button configuration is not overly complicated and the use of the touch screen is limited. For me this makes the experience a more enjoyable one as I don’t have to flip up and down all the time making sure I have everything in order. Some gamers may think that the game is dumbed down from some of the other RPG games out there, but I think the limited use of the touch screen is done on purpose and it works very well. While this is a new game you will find that the button placements feel quite familiar. If it “ain’t broke don’t worry about fixing it” applies nicely to the control scheme set forth here. As a turn-based RPG the controls are simple. You use the control pad to move your characters across the map while you use the face buttons to talk to other characters, open the menus, and use items. In battle, you pick your attack or action and press the buttons to perform your action of choice. The whole affair is very simple, easy, and effective.

The second screen houses the usual map (which is useful) and can be accessed whenever needed. The skills/abilities section plays similar to the Final Fantasy X games where there are paths and directions for you to choose and follow. Some research or exploration would be useful so you don't blow a particular path early on.

You have four party members who are instantly recognizable classes including a knight, thief, black mage, and white mage. They do what their classification suggests with zero crossover between the classes. As battles are won, skill points are earned and shared across everyone in the party which in turn level up abilities. Some new skills are gained merely by levelling up, but many are unlocked by using skill points to advance the characters base abilities. The skill tree clearly shows dependencies. This is the only customizable aspect of the game, and it can be fun deciding on whom and on which skills to use skill points when healing spells, attack abilities, and airship skills are all powered up by spending from the same skill points pool.

Airship combat is the one new thing that Nostalgia brings to the table. The game's setting is an alternate version of the Earth in the 19th century where the world is traversed via airship. Rather than waiting until the end of the game to provide the player with a means of fast travel, an airship is provided to the party right at the start. Naturally, this being an RPG, the sky is filled with random encounters just like any dungeon. The random battles are quite frequent and come out of the blue. Again like dungeon battles you must fight through each encounter, and this can become tedious after some long game time. During airship battles, each party member controls a unique weapon and attacks in a turn-based manner. The key difference between sky combat and ground combat is that although characters take separate turns, they all share the ship's HP. If the ship's life score hits zero, the game is over. You can also purchase upgrades for your ship over time, as it becomes an unofficial party member and you come rely on a great ship set-up as much other skills for each character.

If I have any complaints it is that the general gameplay mechanic suffers from many odd balance issues that come across as unintentional. At the start, skills are expensive to use and characters have low MP totals. In an early dungeon, a party member might have 30 MP, the cheapest skill costs 8 MP to use, and twenty encounters might occur between the entrance and the first save point, so several dozen foes must be slain while a powerful attack ability has only three uses. Things can get tough in the early going and rationing does need to come into play. Later in the game, the opposite is true. Maximum MP Values are through the roof, but skill costs are about the same as they are at the start, so combat consists of spamming nothing but each character's best skill. This alone makes the difficulty in dungeons go from mindlessly tough to mindlessly easy.

Airship battles have similar issues as well. There are times where sky encounters become more difficult, seemingly balanced on the assumption that you have the best airship equipment available. The problem is that you have to fly to the next city to purchase said equipment, so it cannot possibly be equipped yet when the encounters become tougher. Because the success rate of fleeing is next to zero you must stay and finish the fight. One of the drawbacks is that once you have built up your airship it may still take more than a few minutes to kill off some of the higher HP enemies. While you may not be in any kind of danger, the battle is slow and somewhat boring, not really akin to a high quality RPG experience. That being said, it is still more enjoyable than having to scramble for your life throughout a game.


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